A car will usually undergo a complete redesign every six years. The 2019 Toyota 4Runner, by contrast, is in year nine, which usually means a stale vehicle withering on the dealership vine. And yet, the 4Runner is enjoying a renaissance of gang-busters popularity. It’s easy to see why.
This iconic 4-door off-roader blends family-friendly midsize dimensions with a go-anywhere, rough-and-ready truck-based platform. It has huge ground clearance and serious off-road capability, yet it also has a giant cargo area for stowing all your stuff (or the dog) and a surprisingly comfortable ride. Oh, and it looks a lot cooler than all those anonymous crossovers.
But here’s the downside: The 4Runner is less efficient than crossovers, less comfortable and it’s missing many modern features. You’re making sacrifices for its character and capability, so if the most rugged place you’ll ever go is a trailhead parking lot, the 4Runner doesn’t make as much sense.
In any event, it’s easy to fall in love with the 4Runner, it’s just important to drive it back-to-back with crossover competitors to see if you can live with its compromises every day.
What’s New for 2019?
The 4Runner TRD Pro gets key updates for 2019, including new Fox shocks, a new skid plate and roof rack, plus the addition of a standard sunroof and premium JBL sound system. Its price also goes up by nearly $4,000. Following an industry trend, a new Limited Nightshade Edition adds a bunch of blacked out exterior trim to the 4Runner Limited.
What We Like
Go-anywhere capability; large and highly useful cargo area; more comfortable and less cumbersome than other truck-based SUVs; renowned Toyota reliability; easy-to-use controls
What We Don’t
Poor fuel economy; so-so handling on paved roads; dated interior lacks the features and luxury touches of competitors; less passenger space than crossovers; no accident avoidance features available
The 4Runner offers just one engine: a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission is a 5-speed automatic. With optional 4-wheel drive, the 4Runner returns 17 miles per gallon in the city, 20 mpg on the highway and 18 mpg in combined driving. Sticking with rear-wheel drive only nets you an extra 1 mpg in highway driving.
Standard Features & Options
The 2019 Toyota 4Runner is offered in SR5, SR5 Premium, TRD Off-Road, TRD Off-Road Premium, TRD Pro, Limited and Limited Nightshade.
The base SR5 ($35,110) comes standard with 17-in alloy wheels, skid plates, a full-size spare, fog lights, heated mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer, rear privacy glass, a power rear lift gate window, a backup camera, an 8-way power driver seat, a 40/20/40-split reclining and folding second-row seat, cloth upholstery, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, 5 auxiliary power outlets and one household-style power outlet, one USB port, Bluetooth, the 6.1-in Entune touchscreen interface, a smartphone-based navigation app, and an 8-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack and HD radio.
The TRD Off-Road ($38,285) comes only with 4WD and builds onto the standard SR5 equipment special black-painted 17-in wheels, special styling elements, enhanced braking, a locking rear differential, the Multi-Terrain Select system, Crawl Control (essentially a low-speed cruise control for off-roading) and a special fabric upholstery.
The SR5 Premium ($36,940) and TRD Off-Road Premium ($40,195) add heated front seats, power driver lumbar adjustment, a 4-way power passenger seat, SofTex vinyl upholstery, an auto-dimming mirror and a navigation system. A sunroof is optional.
The TRD Pro ($46,615) is also 4WD only and includes all of the TRD Off-Road Premium equipment. It also gets distinctive styling, matte-black 17-in wheels, all-terrain tires, Fox shocks, an upgraded front skidplate, automatic headlights, a sunroof and a 15-speaker JBL sound system.
The Limited ($43,425) is the luxury-oriented poseur of the group. It has a more on-road-friendly suspension dubbed X-REAS, 20-in wheels, a lock center differential (4WD only), chrome exterior accents, front and rear parking sensors, the sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, driver memory settings, leather upholstery, Safety Connect emergency communications and JBL sound system. The Limited Nightshade Edition ($45,165) pretty much adds some black exterior trim in place of the Limited’s chrome.
Options include a sliding rear cargo deck and under-floor storage box on all trim levels. A 50/50-split third-row seat can be added to the SR5 and Limited trims. The Limited trims can be equipped with automatic running boards. The TRD Off-Road trims can be equipped with the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which is made up of disconnecting sway-bars that increase wheel articulation off-road.
Note that the availability of options can depend on the region in which you buy a 4Runner.
The 4Runner includes eight airbags: Front, side, full-length side curtains and front-knee airbags. A backup camera is also standard. However, there are no accident-avoidance tech features like blind spot monitoring, lane-departure or forward-collision warning systems available. These are standard on most other Toyotas.
In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the 4Runner scored four stars out of five overall, including four stars for front impacts, five stars for side impacts and three stars for rollover resistance. The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 4Runner its top rating of Good in every crash category except the small-overlap front test, where the rating was Marginal. Its headlights were rated Poor.
Behind the Wheel
The 4Runner comes up aces off-road, but the same features that are a boon in the bushes — such as the slow-ratio steering and body-on-frame construction — make the 4Runner a bit of a handful on paved roads. The TRD’s optional KDSS suspension actually improves handling on-road even though it’s primarily intended for off-road wheel articulation, but in any 4Runner, you’ll never forget that this is a tall, narrow SUV. We do think Toyota has done a nice job tuning the ride, however, as there’s little of the truck-like jitteriness or harshness one expects from this dwindling class.
Inside, some drivers may find it difficult to find an ideal seating position, while others had no complaints at all. The second-row seat bottom doesn’t offer family crossover levels of space, but as long as you skip the headroom-sapping sunroof, it’s quite spacious back there. And although the optional third-row seat is inhospitable to adults, kids will climb back there without complaint. Plus, when lowered (or not present at all), the 4Runner’s huge, boxy cargo area is especially well-suited to hauling large items or dogs.
In terms of design and feature content, the 4Runner looks its age. Everything is blocky and utilitarian, and there’s too much hard plastic in comparison to the more luxurious Jeep Grand Cherokee (and when you consider the 4Runner’s price point). Controls are simple, but the touchscreen is small and there are a number of features missing throughout much of the range.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee — Want a midsize SUV that can go off-road? Well, your choices are pretty much the 4Runner or the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Jeep has a more premium vibe, more on-road refinement and an available V8, but the 4Runner is more spacious and rugged.
2020 Kia Telluride — If you’re looking for a 3-row vehicle with a squared-off macho look but without the 4Runner’s truck compromises, the new Telluride could be a good bet.
Used Toyota Land Cruiser — If you’re interested in a family-friendly off-roader, the Land Cruiser is a great choice, as it features all the capabilities of the 4Runner and more luxury. Prices are really high, though, so you’ll probably want to consider a used model.
Forget the Limited. It doesn’t have the same off-roading credentials as the other models, and without that, you might as well get a more family friendly and efficient crossover like the Highlander. As such, we would recommend the TRD Off-Road. It doesn’t have quite as much hardware as the TRD Pro, but you probably won’t need it. It has all the capability and off-road toys you’ll likely need, it looks pretty cool and comes with a compelling amount of equipment in standard or Premium guise.